Kevin Cushing can still recall his first varsity appearance on the mound at Phoenixville.
“I came in, one inning of relief against Pottstown and I gave up six runs,” recalled Cushing of his varsity debut as a freshman in 2015. “Not exactly what I was hoping for.”
Cushing took the long walk from rubber to metal that day, quickly realizing that the best was still yet to come in his scholastic career.
“I remember sitting on the bench afterward thinking, ‘It just wasn’t my day.’ I was a freshman, first time on varsity,” he said. “Our coach didn’t like to pull a lot of freshman up, so it was worth it for me just to go out there and give it a shot.”
Little did he know just what would be in store over the next three seasons.
Cushing finished out his high school career this spring as one of the area’s most dominant pitchers, his senior campaign earning the Cornell University commit the title of the Mercury’s All-Area Baseball Player of the Year.
“It means a lot, it’s a big honor to be selected out of everyone in the league,” said Cushing, who was also named Phoenixville High School’s 2018 valedictorian. “I’m not sure how exactly to put it to words, but this season and this entire school year was a great experience for me.”
Cushing finished out the regular season with a 5-1 record to go along with an impressive 0.55 earned-run average. He pitched four complete games, including a no-hitter against Perkiomen Valley, and closed the regular season with a 52 strikeouts to go with just eight walks.
That no-hitter was yet another bullet point on Cushing’s impressive scholastic resume. As a junior in 2017, Cushing put his name on the map when he pitched a perfect game against Pottstown.
“Those were probably my two biggest accomplishments as a high school pitcher,” he said. “To be able to have a no-hitter and a perfect game for me is really special.”
His lone loss in the 2018 regular season was a 2-1 decision against Spring-Ford while the Rams were amid their unbeaten run to start the season. Cushing was tagged for two runs that night at Ram Stadium — only one of them earned — as he went toe-to-toe with Spring-Ford starter Jake Skrocki.
“I always wanted the ball in my hand, especially against the big schools like Spring-Ford and Perk Valley,” said Cushing. “I want to be out there up against the best guys every chance I can.”
Except he didn’t get that chance after leading the Phantoms in their first trip to the Pioneer Athletic Conference playoffs since 2013 and to the conference’s championship game for the first time in over a decade.
Phoenixville’s matchup against Methacton in the PAC semifinals was originally slated for Tuesday, May 15, with the championship to be played that Thursday. But thunderstorms and unplayable field conditions forced the semifinal and championship games all to be postponed and played in one day on Friday, May 18.
And with the opening round of the District 1 Class 5A playoffs looming the following Monday, head coach Neil Herman made the decision to save his ace for districts.
It was a decision that Cushing fully stood behind.
“It was an easy conversation that actually took place after the PAC semifinal was pushed back,” said Herman. “All along, Kevin was going to pitch the semifinal until it got pushed past Wednesday, knowing the district game was Monday. The plan in talking to Kevin was to make sure that he was full strength for the first game of districts. The team’s No. 1 goal all season was a chance to win in districts and go to states.”
That meant Cushing sat in the dugout as Phoenixville topped Methacton, 3-1 in the PAC semifinal round at Spring-Ford’s Ram Stadium. He then sat on the bus as he and his teammates made the trek to Boyertown’s Bear Stadium for the championship game.
And he made himself comfortable inside the dugout at Bear Stadium as the Phantoms fell to Boyertown, 7-0 for the PAC Championship.
“It was tough to sit and watch,” said Cushing. “It would have been a lot better without the rain all week. If we would have been able to play Tuesday and Thursday, who knows what could have happened.”
In the opening round of districts that Monday, the Phantoms pulled an unfortunate vanishing act against West Chester Rustin.
Cushing struggled out of the gates for the first time since his freshman season while Rustin put together a four-run first inning on the way to an 8-6 win. For the game, Cushing finished with 73 pitches in just three innings, one of his more forgettable outings in his high school career.
“That was a tough one,” said Cushing. “A few too many of their hits dropped in and they took advantage of it. Just one of those days. It happens.”
Now as he shifts his focus to his collegiate career at Cornell, Cushing will look to continue his developments — the same ones he believes have brought him to this point.
With a fastball that pushes 90 mph to go along with some solid offspeed pitches, Cushing has plenty in his arsenal to rely upon at the next level.
“I’ve got my curveball, my splitter and a changeup,” said Cushing. “Different days, different pitches. Whatever is on that particular day, I usually stick with.
“I started off throwing a changeup. And my mom didn’t want me throwing a curveball when I was a kid because of all the arm issues. So I started to develop a splitter. Then once I got to high school, I started working on my curve.”
Of course, his pitches have only got stronger through the years. Those improvements came as a result of his dedication to his craft.
“Kev had a willingness to be coached and try different things to get better,” said Herman. “You see a lot of kids that have success and (they) think, ‘Why should I tweak anything?’ Kevin was never like that. He was willing to try anything and do what the coaches asked of him. He always looked for ways to get better, even after a perfect game and no-hitter, he would look for ways to improve.”
Kevin Cushing has come an awful long way since that first outing his freshman year at Phoenixville.
If the past three years are any indication, his best is still yet to come.